What customers really think about drive thru

Did you know that the concept of the drive thru dates back over a century? In 1921, a Texas eatery called the Pig Stand decided to offer truckers along the highway connecting Dallas and Fort Worth tasty food at a fast rate – all from the comfort of their own vehicle.

The popularity of this first drive thru saw the concept evolve, and drive thru innovation proved to be a recipe for success. The concept notably skyrocketed in the 1950s in car-friendly California, with guests loving the idea of being able to choose their own eating environment. Dining on wheels has now been a staple of American culture for decades.

More recently, the pandemic energized customer preference for off-premise dining options, prompting many fast casual eateries such as Salsarita’s Fast Mexican Grill and Ono Hawaiian BBQ to include drive thru concepts as an integral part of their business growth plans1. With that in mind, now’s a good time to examine exactly what customers really want from today’s drive thru experience.

Drive thru hygiene: a non-negotiable

Cleaning and disinfecting have always been important part of any healthy restaurant environment, but the pandemic emphasized sanitation of all food service facilities. In a world post COVID-19, guests now expect a higher level of cleanliness from all types of food service outlets – and drive thru is no exception.

According to a survey by QRS Magazine, most customers feel that ordering through the drive thru is more sanitary than picking up food from a store1 – but visible hygiene practice is key to creating a gleaming impression. According to Technomic2, 89% of diners said seeing employees visibly sanitizing makes them feel safer. From maintaining clean windows and outdoor fixtures to cleaning lanes of dirt and rubbish, regular visible cleaning is key to meeting and exceeding guest expectations.

Guests expect operators to support their personal hygiene

As well as heightened cleaning of the drive thru premises, guests today also expect much more from operators in terms of personal clean-up before and after eating. The pandemic proved the value of contactless ordering and other touch-free sanitiser solutions, including soap and hand towel dispensers.

While napkins have always been a staple in fast food outlets and drive thru environments, customers today also appreciate the offer of additional cleaning products. Creating a healthy, safe, and welcoming drive thru experience that exceeds customer demand means operators should continue to prioritize the personal hygiene of guests looking to eat on the go.

Convenience and accessibility remain key

The drive thru may be a decades old service model, but the advancement of modern technology continues to expand the potential for convenience – a quality that customers truly prize. In a survey by QRS Magazine1, most respondents agreed that they would order from fast-casual restaurants more often if they offered the convenience of a drive thru dining experience.

Fast-casual favourites like Chipotle and Starbucks are adding more drive thru offerings in select locations. Tech-integration may be the winning formula for this type of operator, with updated convenience features such as online ordering, digital menu boards and in-app upselling making it easier than ever for customers to order and collect delicious food on the go.

Personalization adds an extra dimension

Personalization is another key factor for a winning drive thru experience for guests. While speed and quality of service are essential, offering that personal touch can make drive thru dining memorable. In a contactless environment, making guests feel special can be tricky, but utilizing Artificial Intelligence can help develop brand loyalty.

Dunkin’ is a notable case study. The world’s leading baked goods and coffee chain has tested drive thru restaurants that recognize return customers using geolocation within its mobile app. AI powered boards greet the customer by name and display their loyalty points. This kind of tailored experience can help guide customers through the decision process, producing many lucrative upsells.

1 QRS Magazine: What the next generation of drive thru looks like
2 Restaurant Business: Meeting consumer demands for heightened cleanliness